There are currently no fauna indicators in the national environmental accounts. The most recent State of the Environment reports (2016) assessed capacity to report nationally on biodiversity trends as generally poor, but noted that birds represented a good opportunity to provide a fauna component in the accounts.
Understanding whether, and where, species are declining is crucial for monitoring progress towards global biodiversity conservation targets, justifying management resourcing, and stimulating a targeted response to environmental problems.
However, any two monitoring programs collecting data to inform such trends for a given species are likely to differ in the data collectors, populations and locations being monitored, and monitoring protocols (e.g. timing, frequency, spatial coverage, equipment). This makes it challenging to collate and use existing monitoring data to inform indicators of national or global trends in biodiversity change.
The development of the Threatened Bird Index effectively illustrates the challenges faced when dealing with species population data gathered from multiple sources. The project worked to establish processes and methodologies to address these challenges and develop criteria for long-term monitoring datasets and national trend analyses.
Aims & Objectives
This project aimed to collate datasets and assess threatened bird species data from across the country, in order to provide the foundation for a collaborative project to establish an ongoing Threatened Bird Index for Australia.
This project trialed, developed and evaluated a set of potential threatened bird species trend indices, to allow for integrated reporting at national, state and regional levels and across different environments and taxonomic groups. It was critical that the analysis of the data in the Index can be used to inform and report on management interventions.
A large number of organisations and individuals are involved in threatened species research and monitoring in Australia, making the mapping of the ‘stakeholder landscape’ a complex task. BirdLife Australia’s extensive network of contacts was used to create a well-rounded a list of potential data holders.
Fifty-three organisations were identified as potential data holders of bird monitoring data,as well as six state databases, the Atlas of Living Australia, the BirdLife Atlas and several species recovery teams.. Indigenous involvement was sought through state departments and organisations such as Parks Australia – involving Indigenous rangers in many of its monitoring efforts.
Throughout 2016 and early 2017 workshops, teleconferences and email communication were used to distribute progress reports on suitability criteria, overarching project feasibility, data availability for individual species and analytical considerations for discussion.
One workshop discussed the intricacies of data sharing agreements, potential analytical methods to be used for the index, and ways to raise awareness of the data collation efforts among potential data holders. After much discussion, participants reached a consensus on the overall analytical approach to be used: the Living Planet Index (LPI).
Once substantial datasets were captured and analysed, a multi-day workshop took place to refine and confirm the success of the proof-of-concept, and agree on a final version of the suitability criteria framework and the analytical approach.
One surprising change was to the initial plan to use volunteers to manage the data. It became apparent that the nature, quality and quantity of the data varied substantially between datasets, and often required specialist ornithological knowledge and interpretation, as well as substantial data handling skills. Therefore, increased time was spent on data interpretation, automating data import routines and using third party ‘big data’ computing resources from the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).
A total of 317 data sources were identified, representing 203 bird species.
Data holders, almost without exception, responded in a positive fashion to the project’s request for data.
So far, a total of 213 datasets have been transferred to BirdLife Australian for inclusion into the index. A further 46 datasets have been promised.
As of 10 May 2017, the database contains 1.68 million records of threatened species covering the period between 1980 and 2016, with several seabird colony datasets going back to the 1950s.
This successful completion of the first proof-of-concept phase – lays the ground works for the establishment of the Threatened Bird Index and has ensured a solid foundation for the next phase of work – its finalisation and publication.
This is the first and only database of its kind in Australia, storing an unparalleled amount of data to provide a solid basis for the establishment and ongoing maintenance of a Threatened Bird Index. The launch of the index is planned for late 2017.
It is anticipated that this Threatened Bird Index will be the first of a series of Threatened Species Indices, and this planning and development work will ease the establishment of future indices.
BirdLife Australia have extensively promoted the state of monitoring in Australia and population trend indices under development. Both organisations continue to advocate for the importance of population trend tracking to the Federal and State Governments
Authors: Joris Driessen. Threatened Species Database Officer & James O’Connor, Head of Research, BirdLife Australia